Welcome to our Do What You Love, Love What You Do, interview collection.
First up is film and animation director, Gemma Yin...
Tell us about yourself…
I am a freelance film and animation director based in London, creating a range of unique content across fashion, beauty and music. My illustrative approach to traditional video practices gives the work a vibrant style which bridges the gap between a handmade and digital aesthetic. Influences include early experimental stop-frame animation, homemade posters/zines and collage art.
I completed my BA in illustration & animation at Kingston University in 2009. After doing a few freelance jobs, I got a permanent position at Tank where I cut my teeth as head of video for the Magazine platform as well as their in-house creative agency. I have been freelancing ever since leaving in 2014. I have worked for a range of clients including - Revlon, ASOS, Karen Millen, Elle, Nicholas Kirkwood, Charlotte Olympia, Red Valentino (fashion & beauty), and Warner Music, Universal Music, Sony Music on videos for artists including Sigrid, Paul Weller, Django Django and Little Mix.
We talk a lot at push about how to discover what you are passionate about, and how to build the right set of knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviours, and social capital to pursue a job they can truly love. Did you always know you wanted to have a career in animation?
No, I didn’t come to animation specifically until I was on my 1 year art foundation course after college. I was always creative growing up, but didn’t know how to translate that into a career until I was given that opportunity to try out a range of creative disciplines side by side (fine art, textiles, print-making, sculpture, graphic design, new media/animation).
What were the signs growing up that you might pursue a course in digital illustration & animation?
I was always creatively proactive from a young age - I would put my energy into self-initiated projects like making magazines with my friends, shooting and editing videos, craft, painting and drawing. I also had a strong appreciation for the creative arts - contemporary art, cinema, graphic novels etc. At school I was involved in extra-curricular things like creating the yearbook and designing background visuals for stage shows. Even though I was relatively academic at school, I always excelled in art and design subjects, so even though I didn’t know exactly what area I would end up going into, it was inevitably going to be something requiring strong creative and communication skills.
How did you make your choice on what to do at 18? - once you made your choice, was your school helpful?
I knew that I would go to university to do something, somewhere but I wasn’t 100% sure what course would be right for me. It was difficult because my school (which was a brilliant experience overall) put more emphasis on academia, especially when it came to choosing where to go for uni. There was a definite push towards high acceptance rates to Oxford and Cambridge, and other prestigious universities, but a lack of information and choices for creative careers. My careers advisor admitted to me that he didn’t know anything about art and design and that I should speak to my art teacher. While my art teacher was always helpful and supportive, his art education from 2 decades prior had been quite a traditional one. I ended up applying to more generalised courses like Fine Art and Design Communication. It was only when I was getting interviewed and being asked why I wasn’t applying for an Art foundation course that I realised this was a fundamental introductory process into creative careers. I got into a foundation course at Chelsea College in London - and it was free (because I was under 19)!
Also, were your parents helpful?
Yes, they were supportive in the ways that they could be - they would drive me to open days and interviews in various places. They were not pushy or opinionated about what I should study and where, so it was up to me to figure things out without any added pressure from them.
What do you consider the top skills needed (job specific or transferable) to be able to do your job successfully?
Creative thinking and design skills are essential for doing my job, but these would be redundant in the absence of strong communication skills - the ability to communicate and sell the ideas in my head is key to turning the raw skills into real paid projects.
I might be the most creative person in the world but if I can’t have an exchange of ideas with people to figure out the needs of their project, I wouldn’t have a job in this industry. Being able to understand and anticipate the needs of a client or product are essential.
Do set backs come often, and if so, how do you approach them mentally?
Like with any profession, set-backs do occur, but through time and experience you develop a resilience and it becomes easier to overcome and move forwards. No matter how experienced, there will never be critical feedback on your creative work that doesn’t bruise your ego even slightly, but it has to be brushed off quickly and revisited with composure and grace, and often the result is actually improved. I heavily subscribe to Taylor Swifts advice and after a brief moment of annoyance, I SHAKE IT OFF!
What is the most challenging thing about your work?
For me personally, I am finally at a point where the creative challenges don’t daunt me, as I now have full confidence in my ability to create and implement good ideas, a foundation built on many years of experience. It hasn’t always been so easy - I have experienced impostor syndrome like everyone else, waiting to be exposed as a fraud!
What I do find challenging is time management - I still over-book myself and end up a bit stressed with overlapping projects. I often work at weekends to catch up. I am working a lot more with agents and producers now who are helping me to manage my time better.
Another challenge for me is the business side of my business. I have to force myself to catch up with admin and all of the practical stuff, as I would rather be making/creating.
As a natural introvert ,I also find it a bit irksome to self-promote and shout about my work, although this is an essential aspect of being a self-employed creative. By the same token, I am working on building my confidence on shoots that I am directing, where it would benefit me to be louder and more assertive on set, over my natural tendency to be reserved and agreeable.
How do you (excuse the pun), PUSH through when you're having a challenging day?
Great pun. When things get really stressful, I don’t take time to linger on the pain of it all, I usually don’t have time if it’s that bad! It does sound cliched, but I just have to get my head down and do the best that I can in the moment, knowing that it will be over in x amount of hours or even days. You have to just face it head on otherwise you will stop dead or procrastinate, and doing nothing will be even worse than addressing the challenge.
What's the element of your work that you love the most?
Aside from the obvious personal gratification which comes from the successful completion of any creative pursuit, I love reading the comments on my music videos on Youtube!! GUILTY! It is the most fun to read what people think of the videos, especially as an anonymous artist (most music videos don’t credit the director on Youtube). It’s a nice opportunity to reflect on the work and any joy (or pain in some cases) that it has brought to people’s lives.
If you had to wake up at 4am on a cold rainy dark morning, and get up to do a job, would it be this one or anything else?
Definitely this. Obviously there are still many rungs to climb - 4am will look even more amazing when I get commissioned to make a music video for Justin Bieber...
If you could give one piece of advice to your teenage self, what would it be?
I would probably just tell myself not to be so self-conscious and have more confidence in my abilities and ideas. They are good!
Also, don’t under-price your skills. Obviously it is different when you start out and you have to be realistic, but as you get more experienced you should research/compare to get a real understanding about how valuable your time is. You’d be surprised at how most people - (especially ladies!) tend to under-value their time. I definitely still do it.
Also.. delete and organise your emails regularly.. I am going through my inboxes right now, all the way back to 2008 and it is KILLING ME. Help. That is three pieces of advice for the price of one :)
Follow Gemma’s creative adventures on Instagram @gemazingting or visit videocrushh.com